India rules kabaddi but others have plans, too
INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — Nasir Ali has fought Kabaddi battles on the beaches against India and come out on top.
The caliber of the competition and the Indian squad is much bigger now, though, and Ali is focusing more on helping his Pakistan team reach the Asian Games final than worrying about stopping India from clinching a seventh consecutive Kabaddi gold at the event.
“The Indians are very good but we hope to fight it out against them,” he said. “There are teams like Iran, Bangladesh and South Korea who are good, too, and it can be a competitive tournament.”
Ali said Pakistan has done its homework, having seen Indian players in a recent professional kabaddi league that was beamed across the continent on satellite television.
“We’ve been following their techniques and working out their weak points,” he said. “We need to play bravely but at the same time remain composed if we want to win.”
Introduced as a demonstration sport at New Delhi in 1982 and as a medal sport at Beijing in 1990, other teams have failed to catch up with India in kabaddi. India is unconquered in a gold medal match in its homegrown sport.
Ali’s success was in the South Asian Beach Games three years ago, where he led Pakistan to the title. But India wasn’t fielding its top team in that tournament, and the competition was played on sand. It’s an entirely different situation in Incheon, where the 12-man Indian squad features 11 seasoned pros.
The sport is played between two teams of seven players who take turns to send a raider into the rival half of the field to gain points by trying to touch opponents who then go out of the game. All the while, the raider chants the word ‘kabaddi’ until he runs out of breath.
The opposite team tries to either evade his touch or grapples with him so that he can’t return to his own half and has to leave the court.
Teams may have come to terms with India’s superiority but are setting long term goals.
“We’ve had a five-month camp in preparation for these games,” Malaysian coach Harpal Singh said. “We never had centralized training before but things are changing and we are planning long-term programs.”
Harpal says kabaddi is played mostly by expatriates from south Asia but is gaining popularity in Malaysia.
“Kabaddi has a presence and we need to build on that. Regular camps through the year will help and we are now focusing on under-18 tournaments. I don’t think it will be very difficult to catch up with India,” Harpal said.
Thailand coach Somprach Phonchoo thinks it will take time for teams from out of the Indian sub-continent to improve.
“We come here with students of high schools and universities,” Phonchoo said. “The more experience we’re able to provide our young players, the better our chances will be in the long run.”
Phonchoo says most teams are generally not able to match India’s better raiding.
“To take points you need the raiders to play well. We can defend well but one gains points from raiding and that’s where India is too good,” he said.
The Thailand coach hopes players from his country get exposure in an Indian pro league that was started this year.
“Let’s not forget they also have a pro league which will only widen their player base. We hope some of our players, too, get to play for some of those teams because they’ll gain so much by even practicing with them.”
There are two kabaddi leagues run out of India.
The Pro Kabaddi League which uses the same format as the Asian Games and involves city franchises in India, while the World Kabaddi League is played across four continents but on a different format - on a larger court and in which a raider can be tackled by only one player.
India captain Rakesh Kumar, who is aiming for a third Asian Games gold medal, agrees that the professional leagues help his team but does not want to take a gold medal for granted.
“I’m sure the others have come here with plans because they’ve been following our league,” Rakesh said. “Others might be studying our strong points so we’re trying to keep a step ahead. We’ve some players who will be used as surprise weapons later in the tournament.”
India is also the defending champion in the women’s competition, which was introduced as a medal sport at Guangzhou in 2010.